Duterte says Xi will not let him be removed

MANILA • Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping had provided him with a personal assurance that Beijing would not allow him to be removed from office.

"The assurances of Xi are very encouraging: we will not allow you to be taken out from your office and we will not allow the Philippines to go to the dogs," Mr Duterte said in a speech on Tuesday.

Mr Duterte is nearing the end of the second year of his six-year term. The Philippine Constitution bars presidents from serving more than one term, and Mr Duterte has repeatedly rejected calls from allies to seek another term. He has even suggested he would like to cut short his time in office.

Mr Duterte, who did not say when Mr Xi made the remarks, met him on the sidelines of the Boao Forum for Asia in China on April 10. It was his third meeting with Mr Xi since taking office in June 2016.

His comments prompted opposition Liberal Party leader Francis Pangilinan, to question whether Mr Xi's assurances were the reason for Mr Duterte making use of substantial Chinese loans, and his reluctance to criticise Beijing's actions in the South China Sea.

"Is China support for this administration to ensure its ironclad grip on power? Whose interest is being pursued by depending on China?" he asked.

Mr Duterte spent most of his hour-long speech on Tuesday justifying his decision to set aside a July 2016 international court ruling dismissing China's claims to more than 80 per cent of the South China Sea in a case brought by his predecessor Benigno Aquino.

Recalling how "the ever cool guy" Xi had convinced him to focus on restoring relations between the Philippines and China, Mr Duterte said the more "you remain meek and humble" with the likes of Mr Xi, the more you stand to gain.

He said his mindset on the South China Sea was to get what he could, such as an agreement on joint exploration for natural gas.

In a possible prelude to forging military ties, Mr Duterte said that if the Philippines ever ran out of soldiers, he would ask Mr Xi to send over three battalions of fully-geared troops.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 17, 2018, with the headline 'Duterte says Xi will not let him be removed'. Print Edition | Subscribe